Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Bristolian's guide to Hereford(shire)

There's an old saying - "You take the man out of Bristol, but you can't take the racist, xenophobic, sociopathic tendancies out of a Bristolian". Or something like that. Anyway, Bristolians have a pretty bad (and deserved) reputation for not being the friendliest people in the country.

As a die-hard Bristolian displaced my entire life, Middlesbrough for college, Germany for work and, in no particular order, having worked in Basingstoke, Reading, Swindon, Chippenham, London and Cheltenham, I have a slighter more world-centric view of my country than other Bristles.

As such, and given I have now put down roots in a separate county, I have a slightly less rabidly angry and hostile view of other denizens of my country. So, I thought I'd post a brief guide to my new home, Herefordshire, from the perspective of a Bristolian, i.e. me.

Firstly everything seems a little slower than I remember. The pubs don't feel quite as much like I'm about to be dragged out and 'pavemented' (I used to drink in a lot of biker pubs and saw people get pavemented a couple of times - person is dragged out and laid across a kerbstone, which is then used to adminster breaking punishment if you get my drift), the shops feel friendlier (than Broadmead - pretty much, prior to the regeneration, the unfriendliest shopping centre in the world), and the atmosphere seems a little more relaxed.

Hereford itself feels like a place forgotten in time but just discovered by the East Europeans. Yup, there's a lot of Polish accents around when you walk through the centre - strangely, as a Bristolian, immigrant workers don't bother me. When I was in Germany it was the Turks, and now in Hereford it's the Poles, but the difference is in Germany the Turks were the workers. In Hereford, at the moment, every street corner has a bunch of bored looking Polish people, smoking like their lives depended on it. Seems odd that an entire set of people has displaced to another country just to be unemployed, but hey, what do I know.

Hereford itself is like a lot of English cities - a complete contrast set in stone. Beautiful areas, the Cathedral, Church Street, the Old House, jostle with urban decay 60's style for access to the air. Unfortunately there was a fire in late 2010 that managed to destroy a medieval hall but left a concrete card shop intact. Figure that one out.

The villages out in the wilds of Herefordshire are a lot of fun. Ledbury is halfway between Castle Coombe and Winterbourne in it's stylings, a lot of beautiful town market buildings again vying with Easton style concrete boxes. Bromyard, having driven through it once, seems a lovely little crush of black and white just off of a dual carriageway. Leominster, well that seems to be the Patchway of Herefordshire.

What strikes me the most is the contrast between urban desolation and pure, unadulterated countryside. In the space of a mile and a half you go from a Southmead style urban pile of poo to the utter beauty of a quite country village, then miles and miles of rolling hills and farmland until the next 1970's bowel movement.

What freaks me out? Firstly the mix of loud rambunctiousness combined with the deathly peace of a countryside. In Bristol it's loud, sirens, shouts, the occasional scream of a drug related crime victim, all the fun of the fair. Herefordshire it's cows, cows, cows, apples, cows, cows, scream, cows. For someone who is carefully tuned to avoid urban violence the absence of it 98% of the time feels like it is lulling me into a false sense of security in advance of someone coming at me with a broken glass.

Also, what is it with all this rural-ness? I've seen more tractors in the last six months than in my entire life. I've gone from vaguely urban (wildlife = rats, pigeons, rat-pigeon hybrids) to living in a wildlife wonderland. We had a swarm of visiting bees earlier in the week, which freaked me out beyond belief, and about four weeks after moving I came home to find a confused Blue Tit flying around in the shower. For someone who's experience of wildlife was helping my father move a rotting fox out from under a shed this is all a bit David Attenborough.

Over time I'm guessing my Bristolian shields will drop and I will fully drink in the beauty of this forgotten corner of a green and pleasant land, but in the meantime I'll sit in bars with a drink in one hand and the Bristolian's greeting of a scowl upon my face.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The painful hypocrisy that is modern life

Occasionally a deep breath really helps. A couple of deep, lung filling gulps of oxygen rich air seem to make everything so clear, and having just done it, and spent the last eight weeks crushed between the granite of unfeasible work commitments and the desperate urge to rediscover my beautiful, creative, art-driven soul, it strikes me that we are a society that exists to create it's own angst and beat ourselves up for not reaching the unfeasible ideal that is forced upon us by our soul-deep subscription to low-brow media driven demographics.

And what is the scariest thing about it? The fact that everyone, even the most intelligent people I know, subscribe unconsciously and without question to the single driving influence that is placed upon all of us by the loud, mindless voices we all listen to.

Being financially successful in this world is not the end all and be all of our existence. It is subscribing to rules and and targets set by people with privilege who have never had to ask themselves the question as to what makes a valid life.

The hypocrisy is this - none of it matters. Whatever you do now or have done, or will do, means absolutely nothing to the fibre of the universe itself. You are a blip. You are a momentary blink of history itself. When you are gone nothing you do today, tomorrow or yesterday has any influence whatsoever on the balance of the universe.

Sounds apathetic? Hell no - the point is this: you need only to answer to your own internal scoring card. Pretend if you will that it means anything to anyone else, but it doesn't. How you judge your success or worth is only down to what you think inside.

Remember this - those who deem themselves successful are only trying to validate themselves against others using a scale that favours themselves. When the lights go out at night, you are the only person you need score yourself against.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

I am the bastard child of Thatcher, Reagan but most importantly Ridley Scott

I hate nostalgia. It's a wasted emotional throwback to something your mind is pissing about with. It wasn't better then, things weren't more fun, it's just your mind reminding you that initial endorphin rush wears off. But, in the spirit of nostalgia, I want to place my flag in my sand.

The Eleventies had the great war. The twenties had a 'my God we survived, let's enjoy it before the next one'. The thirties had 'something is brewing, let's invent burlesque', the forties had the Dunkirk and Blitz spirit, the fifties never had it so good, the sixties never had it so revolutionary, the seventies, err, bless them for putting up with the seventies. But the Eighties.....

I was 11 when the Eighties started and 21 when it finished. I went from bucked tooth child-prodigy to long-haired society hater in all of ten years. I understood death, life, discovered computers, watched as a generation had no limitations on what they could achieve as long as it was drenched in money and champagne but came of age just in time to catch a financial wave downwards.

But more importantly I grew up when Sci-Fi finally hit its stride. Sure, Star Wars was '77, but Empire was all 80's. As was Blade Runner, Robo-cop, Star Trek - Next Gen (yes, I was a HUGE trekker, I could name all the episodes, knew all the trivia, drew Starships in the margin of all my school textbooks, I was SuperNerd), Outland. It was a time when Sci-Fi reflected and amplified the shitty fear of death that we all lived under.

Oops, slipped up. See, the Eighties had some serious background radiation going on, quite literally, thanks to the super-powers and a life changing piece of television called 'Threads'.

If you can see that word and not feel a ripping pain of terror slice down your backbone, feel your bladder go cold and see, in your mind, the sight of a milkman burning on a doorstep as everything around him is consumed in fire, then you are not a child of the Eighties.

See, Sci-Fi had some raw edges back then. I'm not complaining, I still get a hard-on at the site of a mushroom cloud, which is so not right for SO many reasons, but I don't resent it. Threads left me scarred for life, and you know what - I'm happy it did.

Sci-Fi back then didn't deal with all this 'greater good' bullshit. It came from a time of decadence, but a time that was born from the potential ashes of M.A.D., and that made everything so sweet and so poignant, because every moment you lived could be wrought with the sound of the ten minute warning, telling you of the incoming Russian missiles.

So, now we live in the frankly boring times of the 21st century, let's raise a glass to Red Storm Rising, to Blade Runner, to every goddam piece of fiction written by Phil K.Dick, to edgy sci-fi that cut to the bone and exposed the soul to the impending cooking effect of gamma radiation.

Nostalgia sucks, but I miss the Eighties. Fearing death every day makes you appreciate what you have when you have it.

We are a blessed and cursed society, both by the same thing. Comfort, safety and boredom. Oh, and go watch 'Stalker'. It's Russian, it's Sci-Fi, and it will blow your mind.

Monday, 24 January 2011

There is nothing to fear but fear itself. And the fear of fear. And the fear of fear of fear....

This is going to be a dark ride this time. Occasionally it pays to open up the locked door in the soul and take a peek, and I feel like a root around.....

Right back when my mind was forming I decided I hated being afraid. Really hated it, with a passion. As such I went out of my way to avoid being scared, by pre-empting the fear of fear by imagining the worst case scenario for everything. As I got older my ability to conjure up the worst possible outcomes got better and better - everytime I got in a car I was certain I would end up being removed with a tin opener. Every stomach ache was terminal, every headache was a tumour.

And little by little it sucked all the good out, made everything an exercise in fear and pain, because my defense mechanism, which was to prepare myself for the worst, because, if I did that, I would have nothing to fear, became the norm. There was no enjoyment, because everything would eventually tend towards failure and fear.

I lost the ability to look forward to things. I lost the ability to enjoy literally anything. And as a result I spiralled down into depression. Which I took as the norm because, of course, that was the worst that could happen.

Over time I dealt with this in different ways. I ended up on mood suppression drugs, special fun ones that stopped the down by wiping out everything above and below the 'meh' mood line. To combat this I started to drink, not heavily at first as the effect was good (the alcohol would bounce me out of the 'meh' mood level into a place I hadn't been for a long time, somewhere where I could look forward to things, to actually enjoy things).

Of course, the more alcohol, or any drug you take, the less effect, so I ended up drinking more and more and more to get less and less effect. Then one day I woke up and felt something in me snap - I cold turkeyed the anti-depressants, immediately stopping (which was amusing as I ended up having every single side effect, bar irregular periods of course, and a lot of them at once). I started to wind down the alcohol, because in the absence of the anti-depressants the moods started firing off again. I could feel ups, and downs, but they all felt pretty normal.

But the fear came back. And again, I was petrified of the fear itself, not the underlying causes. I worry about age, I worry about life, I worry about death, I worry about my job. And none of it is justified. Age is natural, and without memories we'd be nothing, without the time to learn how can we grow? Death is nothing to fear - if life is scary and hard then why fear the end of it? My job is an outlet I use for my constructive skills and I do it very well.

Then why the fears? Simple answer - I get high on the adrenaline rush of the fear. I cause the fear in my mind to get the rush. I have simply forgotten that *I* cause the fear.

So, here endeth the lesson of today. As a great man once said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Always thought that was pithy, but turns out that it actually makes a good deal of sense.

Catharcism over, normal madness will be resumed when the black dog has his fill.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Reality is Interpretive and infinitely personalisable.

I just sat through an hour of BBC2 television where, gasp, they tried to screw with my understanding of reality and promised to SHOCK me with REVELATIONS about the nature of reality! (Their words not mine. Plus the capitalisation was provided through DUH DUH DUUUUUH! horrendous incidental musak).

What it actually was was an hour of frankly over-paid scientists putting forward some extremely odd and off the wall ideas about what makes reality, and what justifies their pay and time.

Thing is, I know what reality is. And everyone else does. Whether they find proof of Higgs-Bosun, or someone comes up with a explanation of the two filter/particle/wave experiment, it does not change the basic rules of what reality is.

Strap yourselves in. This is going to be fun.

Human beings are pretty much the same as every other piece of 'life' as we know it. We are reactive creatures, driven by the inputs of our senses to perform reactions and passive behaviours that we attribute to 'free-will' but really are nothing more than confused responses to too many inputs. Every single experience we have can be explained by the behavioural reaction of our sensory apparatus. And in that lies reality.

Quantum mechanics is a personal favourite of mine. I 'got' the concepts of Quantum as a kid, when I imagined that everytime I had screwed something up there was an infinite number of other me's who hadn't. I actually envied the 'other universe' Uths, who always seem to have a better time than me. But the point is this - there may well be multiple, or even infinite permutations of universes but we do not, and never will have, the physical apparatus to experience anything other than what we experience now. The whole point with Quantum Mechanics is that matter can take any form within it's possiblities, and actually takes *all* forms that are available to it, until you interact with it as which point all the infinite possibilities crash down to a single actuality which is what you see/hear/touch/sense. But what about this - when you are not looking at a piece of matter, it is always a sprout. When you look at it, it actualises down to the matter you are looking at, i.e. a rabbit or a cat, but when you are unaware of it it is always a sprout. Sounds mad? It's as provable a theory as quantum mechanics. Both are physically unprovable *until* you look at it.

There are some very good uses of Quantum Mechanics, and the theory is extremely cool, but at the end of the day, and I am getting to my point, the fact that applying a human sense to whatever it is you are experiencing forces it into an experiencable form raises the point I am trying to make, which is you can, and always will, only experience reality through the senses you have. So why does there have to be a higher meaning?

In the absence of there ever being any way for us to experience certain things, such as what happens at the event horizon of a black hole, people can pontificate to their heart's content - they will never be proven wrong, especially if they fall back on the 'infinite universes of which you can only see one!' crap.

There are multiple universes, and every single moment of every waking hour we make decisions that force these multiple, infinite universes to coalesce to the wonderful, down to earth stimuli that we use to experience life. Why complicate it further than that?

You have a set of tools provided to you by evolution for given reasons. We get worried and panic about things we couldn't possibly know because at some point in the dim and distant past all the people who didn't panic got wiped out by the thing they didn't fear before they had a chance to pass on their 'I can stare down a sabre-toothed tiger' genes to the next unfortunate. In fact, and I'll now use this moment to slide off into one of my favourite rants, there are two mechanisms by which we get programmed, Genes and Memes. Genetic behaviour you get from your chemical programming. Memetic behaviour is identical but you inherit it from your senses as you go through life. But I digress....

Reality is interpretive. Most people go through life trying to find the point, the man behind the curtain, the reason for why things are why they are. The truth is they are because they are, everything you experience you experience yourself, physically, and it is how you respond as an entity to these stimuli that makes you who you are, and what your personal reality, which no one else can ever experience in the same way you do, is to you.

Enjoy it, it doesn't last forever. And everything is a sprout until you look at it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Village Idiots aka Other Road Users

At last, time for a proper rant. If you are offended by any form of mis-directed nastiness or semi-coherent raving, steer clear of Fox news. Otherwise, read on.

Soo, I was sat at my desk at 7:30 this morning. At 18:00, without a dinner break, I stumbled tiredly to the UthMobile and slid into the driving seat, plugging in my trusty TomTom, even though I've done the drive multiple times, as it is really fun to watch the 31 miles tick away one by one.

Setting off I noticed the weather was a little unpleasant. The water wasn't clearing off of the windscreen, and occasionally there would be a reasonably large puddle.

Then I headed further away from civilisation, and off into the forrrrrrrest of Dean. Road got a little crapper, lots of blind turns and people driving on the other side of the road with full beams on. I've done it a lot, no worries.

After twenty or so miles I took a right turn to where the road got crud-tastic. Lots of mud, horrendous downpour, so I slowed down from 50 or so mph to 40.

And that's when the Village Idiot arrived. He or she (but most probably he) was under the impression that given the driving conditions the best way to avoid an accident was to drive sooo close to me I couldn't even see his lights over the spoiler at the back, although his hi-beams were perfectly visible as they seared off of my side mirrors into my tired, stressed eyeballs.

For ten miles, ten miles, ten f*cking miles this malformed brain-stem stayed directly on my tail, even when I continually hit deep puddles and slowed rapidly.

Some part of me says it was good driving on his part. The part of me that is thankful I made it home.

So my question is this - I was at my (second) speed awareness course (37 mph through a speed camera. At 5:40 in the morning. On a bank holiday. In the middle of nowhere. Hence why I had a speed awareness instead of a bumph to my insurance costs) and the concept of 'what do you do when someone damaged by years of gluesniffing is trying to hitch to the back of your car' came up. The response was 'slow down'.

But that wouldn't have worked today - if I'd slowed this person would have run into me, and I'm guessing I would have been blamed.

So what can you do? I contemplated sticking my hazards on, slowing to a stop and beating the following driver to death with a copy of the Highway Code.

I like to think he or she was rushing home to a loving family, but I'm a bit of a romantic. Another part of me thinks it was probably the ghost of some 4x4 driver cursed to travel the roads of Herefordshire until he passes on the curse of stupidity to someone else.

Anyway, cathartic rant over. I've glowered the snow away, I now need to turn my brainwaves towards drying the county.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Religion is the Margo Leadbetter of the Masses.

Firstly, I'm an atheist. Or Agnostic. Whichever one Richard Dawkins dislikes more than the other, you know, the one where you are pretty sure there isn't an all powerful deity but just in case you keep an open mind. Agnostic, that's the one.

Anyway, I do not have a beef with religion as it stands. What people believe in is entirely up to them and I am the last person in the world to belittle someone's belief system (which is entirely what this blog entry is about, not belittling as opposed to belittling).

What I do have a beef with is the attitude of a lot of the followers of religion that their personal choice of deity is the absolute, singularily correct interpretation and, with no proof other than 'This is my belief system, hence it is right, hence you are wrong and by deduction I am better than you'. And that's the crux of my annoyance.

Normally the 'I am right, you are wrong' attitude comes from two places - ignorance or doubt. Either one is not an excuse for single mindedness. If there is one thing I've learnt to date it is that defending a position of doubt is untenable, and ignorance is by far the most dangerous thing you can embrace.

Which brings me on to my point, finally. Religion is not the opiate of the masses, as that would imply it gives you an unbridled sense of fuzzy happiness. Religion is a way of feeling better than your neighbour, hence the Margo reference. And this comes from an interesting place...

Back when we all lived in caves and actually subscribed and behaved by the laws of natural selection, choosing a sexual partner was pretty much down to hitting the other guy until he wasn't capable of intercourse. The defining concept on what made a good breeding partner was who was biggest, strongest and possibly maddest. With the exception of the deep south of America, this is no longer the case in a 'civilised' society, and we judge 'strength' by different (incorrect in my humble opinion) values.

The insane nature of our society is that we tend to score suitability based on material wealth now, which is something you have to be canny (or simply born into) to acheive. For those who cannot, for some reason, attain a huge material portfolio religion, strangely enough, comes up second. Why? Because you can feel better than someone else with no material proof.

Sounds daft, but deep down the concepts of religion are are powerplay to make the individual seem 'better' when it comes down to the biological imperative.

Please note I am not slagging of religion. If I was doing that I'd be trying to make myself appear better and therefore subscribing to the biological imperative..... Oh dear.